On October 24th each year, we celebrate the day the United Nations (UN) became a reality as the UN Charter officially entered into force. While you might have forgotten to send a card to your favorite international organizations, friend (or professor), or have not brushed up on your memorization of the sovereignty clause (Article 2.1), the day is an important time to acknowledge the value of the UN and appreciate its work. For the UN’s 25th anniversary, British poet W.H. Auden wrote the words to a hymn performed at the anniversary celebration by Spanish cellist and composer Pablo Casals. You can access a more recent montage with Auden’s narration here and the UN’s 2021 celebration concert here. As a political science professor and longtime fan of the UN (circa 2000 when I joined Model UN), UN Day is an exciting time, particularly when it falls on a teaching day!
The United Nations faces a growing list of challenges and with the UN Climate Change Conference 26 (COP26) starting October 31, 2021, climate change is one of the biggest crises facing the global community. The 2021 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report found a causal relationship between climate change and natural disasters—humans are changing the climate and increasing the severity and frequency of extreme weather events! (If you are wondering what a COP is, check out COP26’s Twitter feed or this video.) COP26 will be hosted by the United Kingdom in Glasgow, Scotland and nearly every world leader is expected to attend and discuss their commitments to the Paris Agreement. The two absences, Vladimir Putin (Russia) and Xi Jinping, are notable given the large greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions their countries both emit.
Climate change is an overwhelming problem, too big for any one person or country to solve. This is where the UN can play a critical role. 196 parties signed the Paris Agreement on December 12, 2015, at COP 21 and the Agreement provides the global governing framework for addressing climate change. It is the first time that all nations formed and signed a binding agreement on climate change. Whether you are a wealthy developed country or a struggling small island state, the Paris Agreement shows what the international community can accomplish when it works together. It can bring out the best of international cooperation as countries share renewable energy technologies, sustainable agricultural practices, environmental education, and more. As the world’s leaders converge on the land of haggis and bagpipes, we must demand they take climate change seriously and also think about actions we can take in our own communities. Canadian scholar David Suzuki provides a great list of 10 actions we can take to combat climate change. If you really want to get yourself excited to go out and become a climate change activist, Leonardo DiCaprio’s 2016 speech at the UN is one of the Academy Award winner and Messenger of Peace’s best. So, as you are planning your UN Day 2022 celebrations with your UN friends, make sure to order your own copy of the UN Charter and UN flag, select your favorite UN Secretary-General (Team Kofi Annan for me), and think about what you hope the UN will accomplish by this time next year!
Dr. Elizabeth Wheat
Dr. Elizabeth Wheat is an Associate Professor in Public and Environmental Affairs, Political Science, Environmental Science and Policy, and the Master of Science in Sustainable Management programs at UW-Green Bay. Her fields of interest include environmental law, civil rights and liberties, environmental justice, international law and organizations, Model UN, and simulations in the classroom. Elizabeth’s research focuses on environmental law cases before the U.S. Courts of Appeals and experiential learning in the classroom such as Model United Nations and mock trials. Elizabeth has received several teaching fellowships to further develop her research on the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning.